Organization Bridges Gap for MilFams
Spend just a few minutes with Kathy Roth-Douquet and you’ll find yourself shaking your head wondering, "how does she do it?"
The energetic mother of two already had a book to her name, a Master’s degree from Princeton, a law degree and a hot-shot Marine husband who flew the president around in his cool helicopter.
But in 2008, the Marine Corps spouse took on another huge task. Roth-Douquet recognized that nearly seven years of war was taking its toll. Families were fracturing under the pressure of lengthy and repeated deployments, troops were returning home with unthinkable physical and emotional injuries, divorce and suicide rates were skyrocketing.
Military families were failing and no one was talking about it.
Roth-Douquet gathered a group of women whose spouses represented all branches of the military, including Wounded Warriors. The group decided they would tackle the difficult job of supporting, connecting and empowering military families while building resilience and strength, and connect the larger American community to the 1 percent who serve.
Blue Star Families, Roth-Douquet says, “is a national platform that speaks across ranks and services” that right out of the gate made huge strides. Beginning with the Military Family Lifestyle Survey, currently in its third iteration, “we asked the right questions and because it came from the military community, it really resonated."
The early success lent the group -- mostly unpaid volunteers thus far -- momentum to push forward, set up official non-profit status and launch more programs. And in a very short time, BSF has partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts, Hunt Development Group, BAE Systems, Blue Shield of California, Disney, McDonalds, and others to bring books to military impacted libraries, deliver tens of thousands of thank you letters to military families, start a unique club for military kids, and host loads of networking and career events. BSF even managed to get a few freebies along the way -- 1,800 freebies, to be exact, thanks to Blue Star Museums.
Blue Star Families did what no other group had done before -- they managed to pinpoint the problems that all branches, including reservists and National Guard families face and engage civilians, political and military leaders in solving them.
Soon after First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched the military support initiative Joining Forces, support poured in in the form of over eighteen million service hours in the name of military families.
Led by social media guru and BSF co-founder Stephanie Himel-Nelson and her team, BSF’s vibrant Facebook page is rife with events, news and information. The team partnered with Facebook to write the book, literally, on how military families should best utilize social media. The online handbook, tailored for today’s 21st century military family, details everything from privacy settings to operational security.
Hollywood came calling recently when Got Your 6 tapped BSF as the lead partner for their family pillar. A massive campaign led by the entertainment industry, Got Your 6 is dedicated to bridging the civilian military divide and raising awareness about the work military family and veteran nonprofit organizations are doing in our communities.
“There are so many people in our country who want to help military families, but just don’t know how,” said BSF’s Himel-Nelson. “Got Your 6 is partnering with the entertainment industry to focus that energy and shine a spotlight on the work we’re doing to help military families. We want to make sure that our military families get the resources and tools they need to stay healthy and strong through deployments and reintegration, so Got Your 6 and its partners are helping Blue Star Families reach a broader section of the military family community.”
Today, Blue Star Families engages civilian and military leaders with regularity through the Military Family Lifestyle Survey, social media, programs and most importantly its members. The hundreds of volunteers and chapter directors located at bases across the nation and in Germany share Blue Star Families’ message of support and empowerment with servicemembers, vets and their families.
“Blue Star Families’ members and volunteers are the ambassadors for our organization and for military families,” said Bianca Strzalkowski, one of Blue Star Families’ deputy directors for membership. “Policymakers, communities, and other organizations listen because all of us are military family members. We give military families a voice and the chance to feel like they’re making a difference.”
When Roth-Douquet and her friends sat down back in 2008 and began talking about military families, they hoped to start a conversation. They started a lot more than that. They started a movement.